How to Get Through the Holidays Without Wrecking Your Health

The holiday season is not too far away. What's so special about this season? The large, yummy, guilt-ridden, but extremely delicious holiday meals, of course! To add insult to injury, the holiday season is also about tight schedules and a never-ending chain of gatherings and parties that keeps you miles away from a regular, healthy routine.

Too often during the holidays, our mornings and afternoons are spent eating, watching television, followed by some more eating and television at night. With this visibly unhealthy routine, many people tend to pack on some extra weight faster than usual. Parties and get-togethers chock full of delicious food and drink don't help. 

It might be tempting for you to just throw in the towel, forget eating healthy, and pick up the pieces once this holiday season is over. But that's not so wise or healthy, is it?

For all of you who wish to enjoy the most of this holiday season without getting too out of shape, here are some time-tested strategies to keep things from feeling out of control.

Try Cutting Yourself Some Slack!

Cut yourself some slack during the holidays

Research has proven that individuals who tend to practice self-compassion, even after they have messed up their routine, do a lot better getting back on track with their goals. [1] So if you have suddenly over-indulged at a party, do not immediately start shaming yourself.

Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More

Planning ahead

Do you wish to eat healthily and stay active during the holiday season? We've got one word for you: PLAN! [2]

If you are a fan of the outdoors, plan a few outdoor activities to enjoy every week. Make sure you have a backup plan for indoor activities in case Mother Nature has plans of her own. Snow, sleet, and bad weather can sidetrack you if you don't have an alternative indoor activity. 

If you have a long list of social obligations and you fear they might derail you from your healthy eating habits, try preparing a protein-rich snack and consume it before going to the party. This can help to fill you up. It might seem silly to eat before going to an event, but you have control over the situation when you do. A healthy homemade snack is going to keep you satiated and prevent you from nibbling on the savory spread laid out by your host.

Make Clever Choices at the Food Table

Make good food choices

Let's pretend you are at a holiday party. Everything's going great until someone announces that the dinner is ready. As you make your way to the food table, praying that you don't end up overeating like you did the last time, there are some ways to ensure you go back home happy and healthy. How? Allow me to explain.

When you are at the food table, try picking up the smallest plate available. This may sound crazy but using small plates to eat can help you trick your brain into thinking you are eating more when you are actually not. [3] If there is only one size of plate available, don't panic. Pick a few foods that you'd like to try and add them to your plate in the smallest portion size possible. The goal is to satisfy your cravings without going overboard. Similarly, when going for drinks, aim for tall, slimmer glasses instead of the wide ones.

Get Creative with Exercise

Cross country skiing

Try putting in some creativity when it comes to exercise, especially if it's getting harder for you to work out daily this holiday season. After all, being active does not only mean sweating in a gym. Plan and execute an indoor scavenger hunt, run back up the hill, or simply go sledding. Consider cross country skiing or using an at home workout DVD. Get the whole family involved and enjoy it even more. [4]

Stick to Mindful Eating

Mindful eating

Who doesn't love eating? I know I do. But overdoing it can certainly make you feel horrible. To make sure you do not lose your mind while filling up your stomach, try something called mindful eating. Mindful eating is where you are fully present in the moment as you savor every bite of your favorite food. [5] As you eat, maintain your focus. Pay close attention to how your teeth sink into the food and then slowly chew, allowing the flavors to permeate your taste buds before finally swallowing. Focus on the feeling of satisfaction that you get after every bite and try to enjoy the satiety it gives you. You'll be surprised to see how this simple practice can slow your pace and help you control the amount of food you eat.

Always Know What You are Pouring In Your Mouth

Holiday drinks

Raising a toast is quite common in holiday parties. But as harmless as it may seem, it can easily sabotage your plans for healthy holiday living within seconds. This is because those delicious and festive cocktails you consume are usually loaded with calories, even if you don't think they are. Tonic water? One of the main ingredients is sugar. Watch out! In addition, sugary drinks can sidetrack you from  your diet goals, therefore making you lose your ambition. This in turn can cause you to overeat. Also, it can make it extremely difficult to be active the following day.

So if you are looking forward to getting through the holidays without wrecking your health, do your homework on serving sizes for alcoholic beverages. Make sure you drink sparkling water or another non-alcoholic beverage following every drink.

Follow a Routine

Holiday routines

During the holiday season, it is pretty common to interrupt your daily routine and abandon all your good intentions. And once you have lived the 'good life' without any self-control, it's pretty hard to regain healthy behavior. So, it is a wise choice to design and stick to a routine. This is helpful even if you only end up following parts of your routine. Doing so will make getting back to the entire routine after the holidays a lot easier. [6]

Choose Activities That Make You Happy

Do things that make you happy

Once you start picking up healthy foods and activities that you truly enjoy, the chances of staying active and eating healthy throughout the holiday season are likely to go up. Because these activities make you genuinely happy, you will keep coming back for more.

Hit it with Some Music

Working out with music

Not a fan of running on the boring, old treadmill while the rest of the world enjoys holidays? Just set up some speakers and play your favorite Christmas tunes as you work up a healthy sweat staying fit and healthy. Studies have shown that good music helps make you persistent and even enjoy exercise. [7] So why not take advantage of it this holiday season?

Be Creative with Festive Foods

Festive food

The holiday season is usually all about sugary treats and unhealthy festive foods. However, it does not mean you cannot enjoy the true holiday spirit without gulping down tons of carbs and sugar.

That's right! You can invest your time in preparing all the festive foods yourself. Get DIY-ing meals or look up healthy recipes for all your favorite festive treats. While doing it, here is a bonus trick: get the whole family involved, even the kids, to enjoy some precious family time.

Steer Clear of "All-or-nothing Thinking"

Healthy holidays

Let's suppose that you indulged a little during this holiday season, despite trying to be extra careful. So what? It doesn’t mean you have to abandon all your healthy habits altogether. Yet, this is what a lot of people do. They miss out on their regular workouts and then abruptly decide to order an extra-large side of fries with their next lunch instead of the usual salad. You don't have to resort to this all-or-nothing approach. It is rather odd but kind of a quick switch that can happen. Bottom line, it’s human nature to enjoy the “good” things in life. So don't be afraid to pick back up the next day with healthy habits.

This mindset is because most people visualize a healthy lifestyle based on the all-or-nothing principle i.e. you are either on the wagon or have fallen off it. And once you have fallen off it, you erroneously think that "I may as well give up."

Of course, this is not how things actually work. You have to realize that a healthy lifestyle means there is always some work-in-progress to be had. One misstep does not automatically ruin your previous efforts, as long as you decide to get up and get back in the game. Don't give up because of one mistake or overindulgence! That's when your previous efforts go down the drain.

During the holiday season, most people impulsively decide in the middle of the December to let things go, and turn over a new leaf on the first day of the new year. This concept gives them a false sense of hope that nothing that happens in between these two dates "counts". This often leads to calories piling up, and terrible results.

Even though you may feel like making a fresh start on January 1st, the body you wake up with that day is going to be the sum total of what you did the entire holiday season. Similarly, the habits that you developed during the holiday season are the ones that you will carry with you into the new year. So think about it. Wouldn't you rather enter the new year with a healthy body and positive momentum instead of the exact opposite? 

The Final Verdict

Next level thinking

We are about to enter into the thick of the holiday season; a time when most of us struggle to practice a healthy routine. With all the extra sugary treats and daily disruptions of routines, you may think that every day is a cheat day. However, as you move closer to the holidays, remember to be extremely choosy about your indulgences, always plan your treats, and when things don't go as you have planned, do not surrender! Get up like a warrior and fight your way back to a good health! Happy holidays!

To your health and happiness, Doctor Danielle

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